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Richmond, VA, 23223
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THE MG BLOG: Now & Ink

What's the life of a Modern Gentleman all about? Find out here, as Jason Tesauro and his collaborators share their latest discoveries and epiphanies.


Filtering by Category: home

SIPs and Spats: a Home-building Update | R•Home Magazine

jason tesauro

Have you been following our home-building process at R•Home Magazine? We first posted about our plans to build a home on our miniature-sized lot back in February and then added an update here in August after breaking ground three months behind schedule. Now, we're actually starting to piece together building materials and interior design selections. The end is in sight, and we can't wait to host you at our housewarming party when it's all finished. 

One SIP at a Time, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, October 25, 2016

Have you driven by yet?  There be concrete on that thar Church Hill! The backhoe scooped out its first bucketful of backyard in July, a solid three months later than the most conservative estimate of when we’d actually break ground. But, who cares? It’s happening. With the foundation finally laid, our walls and structure promise to fly quickly up. Word on the street is that we’ll be under roof in under a month. Here’s why.

“SIPs are the best method to insulate your home,” says our builder Cory Fitchett, construction manager at Old Dominion Innovations, Inc.  “Every joint is caulked and sealed, there are no air leaks and there’s foam insulation throughout the whole house.”

“It costs a tiny bit more,” says Fitchett of the construction method, “but it pays for itself within two to three years.” Overall, you’re looking at a 5- to 10-percent increase up front, “but,” he says, “you’ll save on your heating and cooling costs for decades.”

Meanwhile, with a battalion of hard hats and steel boots working the outside, we’re turning our attention to the inside and all of the sundry design decisions from flooring to ceiling fans. Also on the to-do list: a matter of neighborhood politics that feels like a splinter in the footings. And it’s getting infected. The problem is an easement. There are two definitions for the word, and, in my case at least, “easement” is turning out to be a contronym, meaning a word with contradictory or opposite definitions (like how transparent means “invisible,” or “obvious”). Definition No. 1: A right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose; No. 2: The state or feeling of comfort or peace. Let’s just say there’s no easement with my easement — yet — and leave it at that.

Read more from this article here...


The Why of Design, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, January 16, 2017

We’re back.  Did you miss us? Despite all of my cries about permits, escalating costs and bureaucratic backlogs, the reason you haven’t heard from us in a hundred days isn’t clerical, logistical or economic. It’s personal. During this age of national fractionalism, progressives on the coasts are striving to understand their conservative neighbors in the Midwest. For us, this took an über-local slant as we struggled to build empathy with neighbors due west of our property line. In July, cement-mixer trucks started pouring the foundation. However, akin to WWI’s Hundred Days Offensive when Allies on the Western Front finally broke through, compelling an armistice with Germany, it cost three months of time and resources to squabble over the delicacies of deeds and easements. In the end, we hashed out a temporary Alley Treaty that allowed the heavy machinery to start rolling.

Framing, at long last, began in mid-October. Thanks to the efficient simplicity of our SIPs panels, we went from foundation to framed in nine days. The interior framing and finishing continues, but the entire shell of the house, including the roof, is now in place. I’ve already cracked my first beer on the third floor, and many a friend has clambered up ladders to take in our sensational view. Because that’s where it all began.

Given the 22-foot-wide lot and 3 feet of required setback from neighbors, the rectangle of our home could be a maximum of 16 feet wide. Losing the basement square footage meant that we had to go up and back. Since our block is filled with two-story facades, though, we had to jigger the plans to blend in along the street while still accommodating seven humans. CAR only allowed us 35 feet above grade, so our architects drew up something less skyscraper and more Powhatan longhouse.

The solution? A tale of two houses. First, we raised the front third of our structure and designed high ceilings on the first and second floors (10 and 11 feet, respectively). Thus, from the inside, the front layout steps down, giving us room for three slightly shorter stories in the rest of the house. A cross-section view shows an ingenious plan that squeezed an extra 543 square feet from the loft level to give us 2,900 square feet of living area.

A cross-section of the house shows how the Tesauros squeezed three floors into their narrow lot to maximize living space.

A cross-section of the house shows how the Tesauros squeezed three floors into their narrow lot to maximize living space.

So, you make choices and sacrifices. Yes, we lost a basement, but we gained a double-sided gas fireplace to separate the dining and sitting rooms and keep us toasty. We chose fewer windows than some, yet we splurged on larger sizes, more glass walls and quality doors. We also gave up a front porch — because CAR’s mandated covered porch would’ve rendered our front rooms too dark. In the end, it’s not our dream house, it’s our reality house. And that’s right where we choose to be.

Read more from this article here...


Building a Nest for Seven

jason tesauro

We introduced our partnership with R•Home in February and we've started making progress on the home-building process. Through compromise, necessity, and a decent down payment, we've been able to reach the building stage. Here's what we've been up to lately.

Shovel Ready, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, March 1, 2016

In the last episode,  you met an intrepid family on the eve of a massive commitment: Build a nest for seven people on a little lot in Church Hill where an expert valet could barely park six food trucks. I might blame the holiday hullabaloo for why we haven’t broken ground yet.

Or, I can tell you the truth(s):

1. We have commitment issues.
2. Construction loans are a pain in the asphalt.
3. An annual super fat trip to Europe sounds damn appealing and way cheaper.

This is why we entrusted Nested to tackle the challenge of our site. Designers Jennifer Radakovic and Laura Pitcher admire the efficient urban dwellings in Asian and European cities. They’ve studied the compact Dutch dwellings of Borneo-Sporenburg, a district in Amsterdam where some row houses are but 9 feet wide. The duo surveyed our 22-foot-wide lot and instead of a problematic site, they saw a puzzle worth solving.

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Red Tape, Green Light, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, May 17, 2016

Building a house is like planning a wedding. Your architect and general contractor are the maid of honor and best man. Subcontractors and interior designers are your bridal party (which means at least one of them will end up being an expensive headache). Yet, before the “I do’s,” there’s a proposal of marriage. Your building permit request is an engagement ring, and the city’s approval is your fiancée’s emphatic “yes.”

But wait a minute, Casanova. If your nueva casa is in one of Richmond’s 16 designated old and historic districts, you’ve got to respect tradition and ask for her papa’s permission. In this town, that means a pilgrimage to the Commission of Architectural Review (CAR) and comprehension of their bible: “Old & Historic Districts of Richmond, Virginia Handbook and Design Review Guidelines.” 

From the outset, we knew that our front facade and roofline would be the big issues since our rear facade is shielded from public view and thus out of the commission’s jurisdiction. With our architects, we put to CAR a design that was like a mullet: All business in the front and a party in the back. But, like the mullet, it failed. CAR sent us back to the drawing board to address issues with the roofline, front porch, basement and windows.

When another CAR meeting came around the following month, we were ready to present a refreshed application. That’s when it got ugly.

After the Commission heard our case, they opened the floor and invited neighbors to chime in with support or gripes. This was an early Festivus, complete with airing of public grievances. "We insist that CAR considers the impact of nonstandard designs and how new construction affects the quality of life,” said one neighbor. “It simply does not fit within the block.” I figured we were sunk. Another homeowner, however, restored my faith with his comments: “The design is very cool and creative and if I could afford it, I would probably want to hire the firm that put it together.”

Then we sat in silence while the commission debated aloud. One nugget nearly brought me to tears: “We as a body continue to see the same cookie-cutter production house time and time again. What I respect about this particular application is that it has made an attempt to break away from that very standardized form. … There have been a lot of attempts made with the design to be a good neighbor … and I applaud the applicant for coming up with an interesting solution to a very difficult lot."

It was a nail-biter, but in the end, the vote came out 5-3: Approved. Red tape, green light.

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Idle and Green, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, August 2, 2016

"Idle Moments"  is a sumptuous jazz album by guitarist Grant Green that’s been in steady rotation on my turntable for 20-plus years. In the recording studio, musicians figured the opening number would run maybe 7 minutes. After Green’s enchanting guitar, Duke Pearson’s deft piano, Joe Henderson’s honeyed sax solo and Bobby Hutcherson’s scorching turn on the vibes during that legendary session, however, the track ran past the 15-minute mark. It took twice as long, but man it was good. Read that sentence again and repeat; it might just become our mantra.

Between the ceaseless rain — Richmond just saw its rainiest May since 1889 — and a paperwork morass surrounding the construction loan, it’s been an idle time on our vacant lot at 3607 E. Broad St. You can’t dig in the mud, so the construction crew’s backhoe has been in sleep mode. Nevertheless, we broke ceremonial ground in advance of the heavy earth-movers that will excavate the footing and foundation upon which our house will sit. By the time they finish, a caravan of flatbed trucks will be on the scene to deliver the structural insulated panels (SIPs) that will form the structure (in lieu of conventional wood framing).

While we’re awaiting that first ton of spilt concrete to give our home its bones, we’ve been poring over the systems and machines that will compose our crib’s guts. We may not live in California where every gallon of water and kilowatt hour are precious, but we still want to be good citizens of RVA and stewards of the earth. That means thinking about efficiency and environmental impact.

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Small Lot, Big Life | R•Home Magazine

jason tesauro

Blueprint for Living

Rather than settle or move to the suburbs, a family of seven decides to build their dream house on an unconventional lot.

by Jason Tesauro | February 16, 2016

Amy and Jason Tesauro visit their Church Hill lot with their five children.

Jay Paul, Richmond Magazine

“Go to the end of East Broad Street and we’re the house on your right.” That’s how my wife Amy and I give directions to our place. At least that’s the plan once we have an actual house. Right now, all you’ll find is our slim spit of land squeezed between two dwellings where Broad Street dead-ends just past 36th Street and Chimborazo Park.

In early 2013, we moved into a rental down the street from Libby Hill Park with the intention of buying. By November 2014, we still hadn’t found the right house in Church Hill. We’d nearly settled on something up 27th Street, but we couldn’t reconcile the equation: real estate for seven humans either fit our budget or our style, but not both. Determined to forsake the suburban compromise, Amy ran some numbers and a new idea emerged: “Instead of buying something that half-way works,” she said, “why not spend a little more to build exactly what we want?” It meant tightening the belt for a spell, but it also meant designing from scratch a custom home for us and our five children without sacrificing aesthetics or our street cred. But good luck finding land in Richmond’s hottest neighborhood.

Amy is a Realtor and her company, Linchpin Real Estate Group, specializes in city property, especially Church Hill. Every listing in the 23223 zip code catches her eye. A lot had popped up one morning in November 2014 and by that afternoon, she had made a full-price cash offer.

 “I bought a lot today,” she told me. “It’s 22-feet wide.”

This struck me as absurd. “That’s not a lot,” I said. “That’s a little.” Figure in the required 3-foot setbacks from neighbors on either side, plus the

exterior walls, and you’re down to 15 feet. “It’ll work,” she assured me. “Dutch and Japanese families do it all the time with even less.”

Before Amy called me to report the news, she called Nested, a duo of residential designers in Scott’s Addition, to make sure they could design a cool skinny house. Founded in 2010, Nested (formerly Terre Design Studio) is Laura Pitcher and Jennifer Radakovic. Both under age 36, they are young, hungry and innovative. Amy trusted them with their first in-town home design project because she loved the clean, European lines of their previous work.

But before you ever put shovel to earth in Church Hill’s historic district, you’ve got to stare down the purists, appease the preservationists and earn approval from the persnickety Richmond Commission of Architectural Review (CAR). At best, we’d get a skinny house with views of the river basin. At worst, we’d end up with a $45,000 badminton and bocce court for the children.

Amy has two kids, I have two kids, and we needed some glue, so we had one more together. Isabella, 13, Brooks, 11, and ‘lil Julian, 2, live with us all the time. Sebastion, 12, and Cecilia, 9, are with us half the time. Amy aptly calls our blended lot an “accordion family.” We got them enrolled in the process right away and made sure to connect the dots between how us saying, “no,” to a Peter Chang outing today could mean, “yes,” to a home theater tomorrow.

As the cliché goes, building your own anything takes twice as long and costs twice as much. When we made the offer, we posted on Facebook that a New Year’s Eve party would christen the new digs. I was thinking that meant singing Auld Lang Syne to 2015, though, not 2016.

We were supposed to close on the lot in December, but due to title issues, we closed in February. On the plus side, that extra time doesn’t just build character, it’s refills the till, which is vital, when the budget drags on, too. Our budget was $300,000 for the house we thought we’d need, but it’s going to cost $400,000 for the beautiful house we want.

Thus it begins and you’re invited along. I’ll be documenting the process — the good (green building materials), the bad (nix the basement, it would have cost $85,000) and the ugly (the verbal equivalent of Molotov cocktails from neighborhood opposition) — as we journey from groundbreaking ceremony to housewarming party over the next year.

In the next installment, you’ll meet our quirky clan and our clever builder, Cory Fitchett, construction manager at Old Dominion Innovations Inc. You’ll learn why our home will be made of SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) instead of 2-by-4s, and you’ll learn what’s essential to us (a big-ass kitchen) and what’s expendable (a Big Ass fan). Most importantly, you’ll learn why small-lot-big-life is our guiding tenet. Whereas some people want a two-car garage and porte-cochère, we want seven passport stamps every two years. And since we’re already sweating over the blueprints for our house, why not line them up with the blueprints for our life while we’re at it.

Follow our progress in R•Home Magazine or online at


Watch our segment on WTVR Virginia This Morning "Follow the Tesauro family on the journey to their dream home" - WTVR - 2/3/2016

Watch our segment on WTVR Virginia This Morning
"Follow the Tesauro family on the journey to their dream home" - WTVR - 2/3/2016